Saturday, April 25, 2015

Too Much Drama, Not Enough Action

"Too much drama, not enough action."

I've talked about this before, but I am coming back to it because I have seen this drama/action ratio again.  This time, it was in the first 2 episodes of OUAT.  I didn't especially like it, so I spent an evening mulling over WHY I didn't like that I can avoid the same mistakes in my own writing.
Before I start, I should reiterate that I only saw 2 episodes.  I know several people who absolutely love this show, and I am sure that there are great things about it that I overlooked.  So, don't be angry with my judgments -- I know they aren't perfect.
Going into the show, I knew that it was a tremendous favorite among several groups on the blogging world.  And therefore, I had a kind of disney princess/robin hood/king arthur expectation...which was inaccurate.  Also, OUAT is not the sort of show that I typically watch so it all seemed new and strange to me.

Here is what I saw:

Pros: mystery.  Honestly, the only reason I watched the second episode is because I was confused over what was going on and I was somehow so sure that if I only watched a little bit longer I would figure it out.  Personally, I would have liked to be able to follow the story a little better, but the pieces that they gave me were just enough to make me crave to solve it.  And that "cliff-hanger" technique keeps people's attention.

Cons: there was a lot of drama.  Tears.  Heartbreak.  Dispair.  Agony.  But I wasn't sure why.  I felt like I was watching it, not living it.  There was no realization in me, apart from the character's reactions, of the gravity of the situation.  It felt something like this (words in red are my reaction/words in black are the example):
"Oh, no!  I tripped over a pink shoelace!"  <terrified character grasps her own throat and looks about wildly>
What's wrong with tripping over a pink shoelace?
"I can't believe you tripped over the pink shoelace!  Don't you know you could get us all killed?  SHE will be after you when the sun goes down. And she is not going to catch me within 2 miles of you." <second character starts to run away from first character> "Stay away from me!" I guess tripping over pink shoelaces invokes deadly wrath from a female character.  Still not sure why, but, okay, I'll go with it. 
See what I mean?  I prefer a story where I already know the deadly promise regarding the pink shoelace.  I want to cringe when the character passes by the shoelace.  I want to yell at the book or the screen "Watch out!!!"  And, when she trips on the lace, I want to gasp at the same time as she does because I KNOW what could happen next.
In OUAT, I couldn't see the stakes, except as the character dialogue (usually post-catastrophe) revealed them to me.  That is not my favorite style.

Observation (neither pro nor con): They used character dialogue quite a lot to catch you up on the minimal information you needed to know to process a scene.
For example: I see a girl sobbing on the bed, and I have no idea who she is.  But another character comments that Snow White couldn't be at fault because Snow White has such a good heart and never does anything wrong.  Now, even though I haven't come to know Snow White myself, I have the character insight in order to understand how heartbreaking it is that Snow White is in this situation.
Personally, I think they overdid this technique.  Too often I was handed information in character dialogue.  However, it is a technique to be mastered, and it was neat to see how they used it.

I say "too much drama and not enough action," but here is another way to put it: a good story is a mix of action scenes and reaction scenes.  In my TCK story, there is an action scene where Amos is attacked by a Drago.  Shortly after is a reaction scene, where Amos reflects on how close he came to dying.  Readers need the reaction scene to help process what is happening.  But in OUAT, I felt like nearly every scene was a reaction scene.  Where were the action scenes?

I tell you all this, not to put down any other writer, but to encourage you to avoid pitfalls that even popular shows can have.  I turned OUAT off after 2 episodes and do not plan to watch any more.  The mystery alone was not enough to hold my attention when there was so much drama and very little action.

Have you critiqued any stories lately in order to improve your own writing skills?

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